Is the Doctor In?
Dr. Nick Kouns is coming to a screen near you
BY TRISH ROBERTS HATLER
People are dying across America of Coronavirus at a rate of one 9/11 terrorist attack every four days. The escalating numbers are staggering, and the collective grief that is now a part of daily life is numbing. How we process our new reality is what defines us and our future.
Grief changes us. It is sneaky, cruelly disappearing for half a second when you wake up and reality is jumbled, before you remember that EVERY SINGLE THING has changed. That grief is the price and privilege of loving hard.
Dr. Nick Kouns loves hard and has lived grief. I was devastated to learn a few summers ago that his mother was dying. His love for his mother was its own language, memorialized in stories he shared over the years, in the way he cared for her during her illness, and, characteristically, in the way he has honored her with his life choices.
“When I found out my mother was dying,” he says, “I had been a doctor for 22 years. I was working the day my sister called me to share the news, and it still haunts me to this day—in my memory, it was all in super slow motion.”
The summer she died, he recalls, “I remember a robin had made a nest in one of the beautiful ferns she used to hang on her front porch. We used to sit out on the swing and quietly watch her build her nest as the hours, days, and weeks slipped by. Four eggs turned into four baby robins and I think momma and I were both lifted-up by watching life go on around us even as her life spilled out before us.”
Shortly before she died, he says, “I walked into the physician recruiter’s office in my hometown hospital and laid my CV on his desk. With my hat in my hand, I asked for a job. I moved back home to help take care of my mother.”
“When my mother died, I felt something I had honestly never felt before—I felt alone. And then something happened. I found myself with the opportunity to open a Palliative Care program in that same hometown hospital. I found a way to sublimate my grief. I moved forward with a singular purpose—help create something as a personal legacy to my mother, who had taught me everything good in the world. She taught me about kindness. She taught me about unconditional love. She cultivated in me a sense of humanity and tenderness.”
“She taught me to value life and love above all things and she taught me to give until it hurts a little bit.” —Nick Kouns, remembering his mother, Anna Rose Kouns
The palliative care service line opened and went on to be published in a leading national medical journal as a best practice in how to take care of the sickest and most vulnerable patients in our communities. He adds, “I went on to become a Professor of Palliative Care and, to this day, have the great fortune of teaching medical students from across the state of Kentucky. In addition to the science, I also teach them about kindness. I try to teach them about tenderness and mindfulness—to remind them that medicine is not just about lab values and clinical data.”
I have loved Nick Kouns since I met him at college 36 years ago, long before he was Dr. Nick Kouns. He has always been curiously nonchalant about his successes, even as he was running circles around most other students and racking up prestigious awards, a Watson Fellowship, and attending medical school.
I have been lucky enough to have worked projects through the years that Nick Kouns made happen through love and perseverance. An early supporter of the Art in Healthcare movement, he was one of the driving forces in bringing the critically acclaimed Side x Side Art Program to Cardinal Hill Rehabilitation Hospital, which paired pediatric patients with their primary therapist and a Lexington artist in a program that integrated art into the healthcare setting. The experience changed them, and as coordinator of that program for Cardinal Hill, changed me.
In the five years since his mother died, Dr. Kouns has developed a software company with a cloud-based telemedicine platform that makes his services available to anyone, and I am grateful to have been one of his first patients at A.I.M.S. (Advance Illness Management Services). His practice provides medication management, well visits, a “Sniffles Clinic” for cough/flu/allergy visits, general counseling, and talk therapy.
At AIMS, the doctor is in, and Dr. Kouns, he’s ALL in, because — at a time when we all need it most — he leads with love.
This article also appears on page 11 of the August 2020 print edition of Ace Weekly.
Subscribe to the Ace e-dition for Lexington news, arts, culture, food, and entertainment news delivered to your inbox.
Call today to advertise in Ace, 859.225.4889